In a farmhouse surrounded by Colombia’s cloud forest, Iván Lozano inspects dozens of glass containers. They hold some of the world’s most coveted and endangered frogs. Lozano is hitting back against illegal poachers and smugglers who contribute to the frogs’ demise. But he isn’t doing it like law enforcement does. Instead, he’s breeding more frogs to undermine the trafficking efforts of those who sell endangered species to collectors.
Lozano has been fighting the illegal trade in rare tropical frogs for years. He’s dedicated his life and finances to save the brightly colored, poisonous amphibians whose population in the wild is dwindling.
Using economics to the frogs’ benefit, Lozano breeds the critters legally. Then he sells them at lower prices than specimens plucked by traffickers from Colombia’s jungles.
Lozano’s frog-breeding center is called Tesoros de Colombia. That translates to Treasures of Colombia. It is among a handful of conservation programs around the world that provide exotic animal enthusiasts (buyers) with more eco-friendly alternatives: specimens bred in captivity. Collectors seek the frogs for their brilliant colors—not their former habitat. In the United States, some now see the value in purchasing from breeders like Lozano.
“Before, there was no way you could get a histrionica legally,” says Julio Rodríguez, an experienced New York City collector. He uses the Harlequin Poison Frog’s scientific name. “If you saw one in a collection, it most likely came from the black market.”
Rodríguez says that since Tesoros de Colombia began exporting frogs to the United States six years ago, prices have dropped significantly. The Harlequin is down 50 percent, he says. The Golden Dart Frog, another much-sought species, went from around $150 to only $30.
“We want prices to go down so much that it’s no longer profitable for traffickers,” Lozano explains.
He also helps collectors breed their own frogs. They too can flood the market with legal specimens, thereby reducing pressure on wild populations. But won’t Lozano’s success also mean an eventual end to his income? Not for a long time yet.
“We make ourselves sustainable by moving on to new species,” says Lozano. He already has export permits for seven species, including the Red Lehmanni, a frog so rare collectors refer to it as “the Holy Grail.” Plus, Lozano is seeking permission from Colombia’s government to export another 13 trafficked species.
At least 160 amphibian species in Colombia are critically endangered. Lozano also wants to repopulate forests with frogs bred in his lab. He calls the situation urgent: “If we don’t persist, some frogs could become extinct.”